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Christmas Oratorio (Bach) December 2012

Christmas Oratorio (Bach) UWA Choral Society, Winthrop Hall

If ever a masterpiece warrants regular performances at Yuletide, it is Bach's Christmas Oratorio. It is too fine - too great - a work to be kept in mothballs for years at a time.

And there was much that gave listening pleasure at an all-too-rare airing of the work at Winthrop Hall at the weekend. It was presented complete apart from the sections focusing on the circumcision of the infant Jesus and the journey of the Magi.

Winthrop Hall was packed to capacity. Throughout, Christopher van Tuinen, presiding over events, invariably set tempi that were sensible and workable - and so ensured unflagging momentum.

How beautifully the chorales, which dot the oratorio, were presented, informed as they invariably were by a nobility and, at times, tenderness that sounded entirely appropriate. They were like a golden thread through the performance.

Elsewhere, occasionally, soprano intonation and clarity of words might have been more precise.

Of the four vocal soloists, all of whom acquitted themselves professionally, it was Robert Hofmann, in particular, who earnt laurels, not least for clarity of diction and tonal projection. But in the duet Lord, Thy Mercy, the baritone line was rather too forceful and overshadowed the soprano.

Both Courtney Pitman (mezzo soprano) and Katja Webb (soprano) sang with focus and finesse - and tenor Alasdair Kent shows much promise.

Trumpeters, step forward and take a thoroughly deserved bow. The ecstatic dimension of the music was splendidly underscored by their fine playing, not least in Lord of Creation which sounded thrilling. This was also the case in Lord, when the Foe is Howling Madly, although tenors and baritones were not always quite in tune here.

Andrew Nicholson provided a flawless flute obbligato to the aria Happy Shepherds. The orchestra, as a whole, shone, particularly in the postlude to the aria With His Hand the Lord can Vanquish. It was no less meaningful in the gently rocking Sinfonia which introduces Part II.

Hopefully, performances of Bach's Christmas Oratorio will become as integral a part of the season as Handel's Messiah. It certainly warrants annual airings.

REVIEW: NEVILLE COHN

The West Australian (online) 26 Dec 2012

Monday, January 07, 2013